Thursday, February 06, 2020

A look at my own AA journey.

As many of you know I published a book about 6 months ago. It is the story of my life beginning in  1943.  World War 11 was in full swing and I had just been given a special gift for my 10th birthday.  I chose the title "My Halcyon Years" because it so aptly described my life from then until 1960. I write in detail of all the many events and exciting people that crossed my path and it was fun and easy to put down on paper.  However my life changed drastically in 1960 and it was far from idyllic

All of a sudden I realized that I'd really boxed myself in by the title.  I had just written the last of my "halcyon" chapters and I was in a quandary.  It didn't seem to make sense to just end it abruptly. but if I took the reader full cycle … from my marriage to Dick in 1958 (the highlight of the halcyon years) to his death in 1990 … it would make it an entirely different book. I finally chose to keep it fairly light because that was the easiest way to retain the basic tenor of the book. I do mention, however, that in1989 Dick and our 3 children held an intervention with me in hopes that I would face my drinking problem and get help. I go on to mention that with the support of Dick, the children and the AA program I now had over 30 years of sobriety. It was all true but it made it seem like getting sober was a walk in the park. In reality it was the hardest thing I've ever done. 

Let me backtrack to the New York City days. Dick and I met there in 1957 and married a year later. He had just left LIFE magazine and was starting his free lance Industrial Photography business.  The halcyon days were still in full swing and we had big plans for the future when it abruptly came  to an end when Dick was diagnosed as an extremely brittle diabetic. Luckily insulin had just been introduced and, although it kept him alive, it was far from perfect and he suffered terribly. His photography days were over and we moved to a small town in upstate New York.  Our doctor there made it clear to me that a calm and supportive life style was extremely basic to Dick's health so I tried to do my best, but with 3 small children, a move to a town where I knew noone and a Mom & Pop real estate business that we were hoping against hope would support us, I found it near impossible to keep things afloat. My favorite time came before dinner when Dick and I would relax with drinks as we talked about the future. I began to rely on it more and more and truly thought that I'd found the answer.

Alcohol, though, is a very clever and sneaky foe. For years it seemed to be the very thing that allowed me to keep a steady hold on the family but what it really did was isolate me from them. As the years progressed we drifted further apart but I honestly didn't see what it was doing and when they intervened it was a shock to me. I agreed to get help and that began the long journey in AA. I found it incredibly hard at the beginning. As a good AA friend describes it "getting and staying sober is not for wimps" and I can attest to that.  I couldn't relate to others who seemed much more in need than I. After all, I'd never had a DUI or been put in jail. I didn't hang out in bars. I still had a job and meals were on time. What I couldn't face was the fact that I didn't have the empathy and the guts to face our new life after the halcyon years without the aid of my best friend … alcohol.  

I joined AA in June of 1989 and Dick passed away in September of 1990.  He died knowing that he had accomplished what he wanted … a sober mother for our children. However I lived on in guilt knowing that he never truly had the benefits of a sober wife during the last 15 months of his life. It wasn't fair and it made me feel weak and heartkess. However I was, literally,  incapable at that time of  doing anything more than attending meetings and trying my best to understand it all. 

Writing"My Halcyon Years" was very cathartic for me and a wonderful thing happened as a result. It brought back memories of my early years in sobriety and reminded me of one of AA's wise sayings. It tells us not to forget the past but to make certain that we don't get stuck in it either! It became clear to me that I had been doing just that ever since Dick died and I realized that it was not what he would have wanted for me. It literally set me free and I was finally able to forgive myself and start anew. I will always be thankful that one of the last things Dick said to me was “promise me you will keep on with AA".  I gave him that promise and have never wavered from it.  My dedication reads:  "For their patience and love I dedicate this book to my children Mark, Matt & Jody and to the memory of their father Richard Dean"

I think of Dick as my hero. He restored me to life and to the memories of when we met in 1957 … truly the highlight of that halcyon time.  I can't thank him in person, but I do so from my heart every day.  #2 in the picture is his pal Thunder. I know that Dick was his hero, too.

ADDENDUM:   Over the past 30+ years I have seen hundreds of men and women who wait too long before seeking help. If you are hiding behind alcohol  PLEASE take heed.  The alternative to seeking help is never good … families are torn apart and the alcoholic's life often ends in jails, asylums and ultimately in death. If you can relate to anything I've written please act on it before it is too late.  AA is world-wide and the doors are open to anyone who wants to enter. We even have a chair reserved just for you!  As our tradition states "the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking".  I can attest to the fact that it's not easy but if you have the courage to stick to it the rewards will be beyond your belief. Please join us. I can't wait to meet you.

(PS: I have no idea why all my paragraphs are so wonky... they look fine when I review and republish it but they are still out of sync,)


Blogger Anvilcloud said...

What a brave and honest piece. I have the book, but I haven’t been reading anything much lately, Thanks for reminding me.

5:49 PM  
Blogger Joared said...

I read your book shortly after you published it and could so identify with those times you described. You were living in an exciting environment in heady times. Social drinking was very much a part of life then and I can well appreciate how a pattern to your life might have been established. Then with your relocation to the new town as you describe here would have been an adjustment. I think it's a common misperception that if people aren't falling down drunk or have other obvious behaviors judged unacceptable or illegal that they don't have an alcohol problem. The reality is our brains are affected by the steady effects of alcohol in ways not always readily recognized. Glad you could be receptive to your family's intervention, then later at the AA meeting. Congratulations on your continuing recovery and generosity helping so many on the road to doing the same.

Because of my professional work I had occasions to attend some AA meetings, some of which included individuals with other drug addictions, too. Also at that time, some decades ago, a number of books were being published about Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA) prominently being discussed in the media which I was interested to read. I was encountering a number of older adults in medical units with primary diagnoses requiring rehab with P.T., O.T., and/or S.T. for such as a broken hip, injury, stroke and other. In addition, especially the older (50 yrs +) had additional medical problems like arthritis and other med issues including some with ETOH (alcohol) issues. That's when I learned about some people self-medicating for a variety of reasons by using alcohol was considered to be an increasing problem. I subsequently learned this can be especially true for some older people often due to depression, anxiety, stress. Unfortunately, that can complicate achieving some rehab gains and can also increase cognitive decline. I have to wonder now what will be learned in the future, that we may not know now, with the increasing legalization and use of marijuana, especially if abused, given what we know happens with alcohol.

12:14 AM  
Blogger Marie Smith said...

I enjoyed the book, Ginnie. This piece adds another dimension.

Honesty sounds like a big part of AA, being honest with yourself as a place to start.

Thank you for sharing your journey with us!

7:35 AM  
Blogger Arkansas Patti said...

What an honest look at your life Ginnie. I am so impressed that your family not only did the intervention but that you took it to heart and followed through. I am reading your book but I have mention my problem with hard copies and need for an enlarged font I can get with Kindle. So sorry the Kindle version didn't work out.
I adored your episodes with the English service men. Oops,that sounds a bit naughty out of context:)) I have enjoyed your career travels and envied your time with Gregory Peck. I was crushy on Rory Calhoun in the day. Honest I want to and will finish. I'm half way there. I just need to read while in an upright position with bright lighting. I normally read at night in bed and yes, lost my place three times when I fell asleep which is no problem with Kindle.
I also kind of envy your long relationship with AA.
I may seek them out if the world situation keeps deteriorating. I haven't wanted a drink in 40 years but each depressing day is having an effect. So far no real desire but who knows?
Thank you for your honesty.

7:36 AM  
Blogger NCmountainwoman said...

I have a very close relative coming to grips with this awful illness. I am so proud that he is taking charge. He just earned his three month chip and both he and his sponsor were very pleased. So am I. I applaud all recovering alcoholics whose illness is often not understood.

6:32 AM  
Blogger The Porcelain Garden said...

It is truly a great and useful piece of info.

7:52 PM  

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